Al Hampel, a well known, New York based creative director in the 1980s, laid out a set of rules for creating effective advertising. Kind of a ten commandments of “do’s” and “don’ts” he expected his creative department to follow. At the top of the list (or the tablet) was this one: “It isn’t creative unless it sells.” Another Hampel-ism was “Say the name of the product in the first three seconds of a commercial.” Not surprisingly, he took a lot of heat for his rigid approach from copywriters and art directors who didn’t want to be told how to do their jobs. The creative community held the belief that there were many ways to grab the consumer’s attention and deliver a compelling reason to buy. They didn’t need or want a checklist approach to creativity. They certainly didn’t want to adopt what they saw as Al’s hard sell, shove it down the consumer’s throat philosophy.
Yet interestingly, despite all of the arguing back and forth that Hampel’s pronouncement set off, there was no disagreement that the role of advertising was to sell the client’s product. Cut to 2011. Where are we today? Selling has become kind of dirty. No one wants to use the word. Now it appears we’re in the business of conversations. Consider this recent quote from an agency principal when he was asked what would be unique about his newly formed shop. “What we aim to do is create ideas and content that influence conversations. We expect to be able to distribute content and engage in conversations with consumers in a multichannel way. We’re not PR, and we’re not traditional.”
The last thing an advertising agency wants to be these days is an advertising agency. And the last thing they want to do is sell a product. Selling is old school.
It’s assumed that if you can engage consumers in a conversation, they will eventually get around to buying whatever it is you’re supposed to be peddling. Or maybe not. And what difference does it really make so long as you generate a ton of “likes” on Facebook and get a gazillion views on Youtube?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe the digital space provides an incredible opportunity to connect consumers with products and services in new and exciting ways. But at the proverbial end of the day, the job of advertising (There, I said it!) is to sell something. People buy products that somehow, some way, fill a need for them. Advertising gives them the information they need to form a preference for your product over your competitor’s product. Let’s not be afraid to do that. Now there’s something we can have a conversation about.